By:Brian Thomas
Review Date: Friday, June 22, 2007

In Bruce Almighty (2003) – you may remember – God (Morgan Freeman) granted unlimited power (within limits) to mortal TV weatherman Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) to teach him to take responsibility for his life and stop complaining so much. In Evan Almighty, God comes to Nolan’s former rival Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, who along with Freeman and director Tom Shadyac are the lone repeaters in the sequel), who has just been elected a Congressman, and tells him He wants him to build an ark.

You probably got all that, and much more, from the movie’s trailer, which has been seen just about everywhere leading up to the film’s release. But though the ad gives away a bit more than it should, it’s still confusing. Isn’t Baxter kind of an asshole – why should we care about him? And if God plans to flood the Earth again, doesn’t that contradict what I was told in Catechism? Didn’t God promise never to bring the Great Flood again? And if Baxter is meant to become a modern day Noah, why is it necessary for him to build his ark using ancient tools and grow a long white beard? At least in The Santa Clause there was a rationale for Tim Allen to get fat and grow a beard, so that he would look the part of Santa Claus and insure continuity. It seems as if God means for Baxter to keep growing hair and wear old robes just to get some cheap laughs.

Well, precisely. Freeman (and Shadyac) play God as a friendly guy with a wicked sense of humor who enjoys putting Baxter through changes by screwing with him. He could have found a more subtle way of doing His business than to get some schmuck to construct a titanic vessel in the back yard of his new McMansion, but that wouldn’t have been as funny. This is a comedy after all, and God knows that forcing a guy to build an ark is funny, but forcing him to wear a silly costume while doing so is really funny.

Use of the word “funny” brings us to star Steve Carell, who is presently on a huge roll. He went from Daily Show correspondent to starring in what’s being billed as “the most expensive comedy in history” rather quickly, and Almighty contains a few nods to his sudden stardom. As Baxter begins his first day in Congress, there’s much talk about how much nicer his new office is than his old Office, and as God begins to torment the naïve politician he makes a movie marquee tout The 40 Year Old Virgin Mary. Carell has to battle a lot more than his own résumé here, as he gets upstaged at every turn. He has to act alongside Lauren Graham, who is saddled with the rather thankless wife role, but still does a lot of subtly wonderful things with her eyes. Then there’s Freeman, hamming it up in his own classy way as much as John Goodman does as the blandly sinister senior Representative, plotting to have Baxter help him pass an obviously crooked land use bill. And giving Baxter Wanda Sykes as a sidekick is just plain mean. She effortlessly steals every scene, getting the audience to wait for her zingers. John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind) and SNL’s Molly Shannon are also on hand to swipe laughs.

But Carell also has to work alongside hundreds of animals, both real and computer generated as part of the movie’s big budget special effects, which culminate in a spectacular f/x-filled climax. It’s no wonder that Carell comes off as a bit of a disappointment here. The man is insanely funny if you just point a camera at him, but if he gets a laugh when he’s covered in birds or when there’s a capering baboon in the frame, then it’s not really him being funny, is it?

Special effects are not inherently unfunny. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Bowers and other comedy pioneers proved as much, making us laugh at them because their characters were put in outrageous situations like the storm Keaton braves in Steamboat Bill Jr.. The spectacle created for Evan Almighty has the proper overall spirit of surrealism. Telling you more would give too much away, but suffice to say that the build-up pays off in unexpected ways.

Evan Almighty is a bit too preachy, a bit too proud of its almighty f/x and a bit too reliant on bird poop gags to be a really first class comedy. But it’s an undeniable crowd-pleaser that keeps you entertained from start to finish – and even a little bit after the finish via behind-the-scenes dance clips playing under the end credits.
Copyright © 2007 Brian Thomas, author of the massive book VideoHound’s Dragon: Asian Action & Cult Flicks, available now!

Mania Grade: B
Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
Rated: PG for mild rude humor and some peril
Cast: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Molly Shannon, Ed Helms
Writers: Steve Oedekerk and Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow
Director: Tom Shadyac
Distributor: Universal Pictures